Mr. Park went to North Korea with his family when he was four
years old. The family went to Onson County in North Hamgyong
Province, where they were assigned to a coal mining operation.
In 1999, he fled to China to escape the food shortages and starvation
that had plagued the country throughout the 1990s. Park’s
life in China was very hard due to his illegal status. One employer
ran off with Park’s wages, leaving him without a single
yuan and in despair.
By chance, Park heard about Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
from a South Korean NGO operating in China, and in 2006 he returned
to Japan with his son. Although he was returning to Japan, the
fact that he could speak almost no Japanese, coupled with the
fact that he was over 50, made finding work very difficult. In
addition, Park’s relatives in Japan could speak no Korean.
Fortunately, they were very welcoming and accepted him into the
family. Although the language barrier did provide its share of
mishaps, Park and his relatives managed to communicate with each
I asked Park recently how he and his son were doing. The president
of the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) was also the
president of a construction company, and gave Park a construction
job, where he works mainly with machinery. For Park, his age
was a concern with regard to employment, and he also worried
about whether he would be able to continue working construction
as he got older. But apparently one of his coworkers is 70 years
old, which has put his mind at ease somewhat. Every morning Park
gets up early, makes his lunch, and leaves for work. He says
his hope is to continue working for many years to come.
Between worrying about finding work, and about whether he would
manage to make his way in Japanese society, Mr. Park must deal
with a lot of stress. But since securing employment he has had
one less thing to worry about and seems much calmer and more
relaxed as a result, leaving him with the energy to plan his
In April of this year, his son Akira began attending junior
high classes at night [the Japanese school year begins in April].
He is also attending Japanese-language school during the day
where he is learning the basics of the language from T, his teacher,
and plans to continue attending until June. Akira's father is
anxious for his son to learn Japanese and is encouraging him
in his efforts. His night-school teacher also says that his progress
in Japanese has been faster than expected. He seems to understand
most of what is said to him, even though some other foreign students
at the school understand very little.
I asked one of the Parks’ cousins in Japan if Akira was
thinking about getting a part-time job. I found out that Akira
is planning to focus on his Japanese studies for now, but that
he has been replying to help-wanted ads in the neighborhood.
He has already had some interviews, although some were unsuccessful.
Park and his relatives have also encouraged Akira to focus on
his Japanese studies. Akira himself has been leaving early for
Japanese classes and coming home late after his junior-high classes.
It looks as though he will have his work cut out for him.